As amazing as it may seem, the Internet and the World Wide Web as we know them today are less than 20 years old. In fact, it is now hard to imagine the world without the Internet. But, as recently as 1994 there were only 500 fairly modest Web sites worldwide. In less than 15 years, the World Wide Web has grown to more than 3 billion pages.
And there is no end in sight.
As microprocessors and software applications become cheaper and more powerful, Internet access will be available to a wider audience from a wider range of devices, and communication will become even faster and easier.
If you aren’t already involved with making money on the Internet, the time is NOW to jump into e-commerce. The audience is enormous and growing. And the technology is in place to build a dynamic, energetic online business that is able to reach across the world to attract prospects and customers.
E-commerce is quick. It is easy. And it doesn’t cost a fortune to get started.
The key to online profits is to build a Web site or network of Web sites that attract lots of targeted traffic along with the increased click-thus and sales that come with visitors. And now, after less than 20 years of Internet development, clear strategies for cost-effectively building your online presence have emerged.
This discipline is called online marketing. And its objective is to get as many interested people to your site as possible.
There are currently only 3 ways that a prospective client can arrive at your site:
1) He can type keywords into a search engine.
2) He can click through to your site from a link on another page or…
3) He can type in your URL.
There are proven online Web marketing techniques to help you optimize these options. But some are more efficient and cost effective than others. Here is a brief overview of the customer acquisition methods available to you, organized in a cost pyramid: cheapest cost per new customer acquired to most expensive.
Customer Referral or Tell-a-Friend
One of the cheapest and best ways you can acquire a new customer is to have one of your existing customers recommend your site to a friend or colleague. This will actually cost you nothing – except the hard work it takes to build a loyal following. That means you’ll need to offer great products, fantastic customer service, and good value for money.
One easy way to facilitate referrals is to include a tell-a-friend link on your Web site. There are several low-cost software applications available to add this feature to your site.
o Omnistar Tell which is available to either run on your own server for a $27 one-time fee or as a hosted solution for $7.95 a month. (see oministartell.com)
o TAFPro, a downloadable software available in the standard version for $97 or the Advanced Technology version for $197. (see tellafriendsoftware.com)
o Viral Friend Generator available for a one-time payment of just $97 (regular price is $197). Once you own the software you can use it on multiple domains. (see viralfriendgenerator.com)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
When someone is searching for something your site provides, he types some search words into a search engine like Google. Naturally, you want your site to come up on the first page of searches. Otherwise, the searcher will likely never arrive at your site.
In order for you to be in the top 10 listings, your site needs to be optimized for the search engine spiders that crawl the Internet and rank your pages for relevance to key search words. That means your site probably needs professional help to make sure your keywords are properly selected and coded, you have plenty of links to other pages (and they work) and your content matches your keywords.
But there are things you can do yourself. First, look at the keywords on the sites of your competitors. To do that, go to the Web site. On your toolbar, click on View, then Source. A screen will open that displays the Web site’s “meta” codes. You should see Name, Content and Keywords, all followed by a list of words that describe the content of the site.
These are the search terms utilized by the search engines to drive traffic to the site.
For help in selecting keywords that are relevant to your offerings and terms people are actually using in real-life searches, go to wordtracker.com. You’ll find out how often the term has been queried in the last 90 days across all search engines along with an estimate of the number of times it will be queried within the next day. WordTracker even ranks the words for effectiveness as keywords. You’ll also get a list of the number of Web pages that share the search term on your target search engine.
You can subscribe to WordTracker for a year, a month or a day – but try it first for FREE!
An inbound link campaign can be effective in driving traffic to your site. It is fairly easy to make reciprocal arrangements with sites related to your site to exchange links so that you are listed on their link page and they are listed on yours. Simply e-mail the sites you are interested in and ask them to exchange links. Lots of inbound links help with search engine ranking in addition to attracting interested parties to your site.
You can choose from either free or low-cost independent classified sites like craigslist.com or the classified sections of MySpace.com and Yahoo.com. There are also product-specific classified sites for cars, housing, and pets.
Generally designed for local advertising, you will need to post classifieds on multiple sites for broad coverage. There are sites that will handle this for you including postlets.com, vFlyer.com, and Mpire.com.
Blogging and Editorial Mentions
You can build marketing “buzz” on your site by blogging and submitting articles to sites like EzineArticles.com. But you should care about blogs only if your target audience uses them. If you are in the technical, political, advertising, online marketing, lifestyle and entertainment fields, blogging and getting editorial mentions in blogs might be for you.
To find a blog to post to or request a mention, go to technorati.com – which claims to rank some 55 million blogs by a frequency of use. Select only from the top 10% — there isn’t much point in participating on a blog that isn’t seen by a large audience of people.
Social networks – whether business or personal – encourage participants to interact with others who share their interests. Social networking is like traditional networking only carried out online via Web sites designed specifically for this purpose.
Marketing via social networking sites is attractive to businesses because it is fast, easy and relatively inexpensive. There is fast turn-around time, and you can test quickly and easily. It is the latest craze to sweep the Internet and is often most effective when you are dealing with a younger target audience. Think MySpace.com, YouTube.com, and LinkedIn.com.
Opt-in e-mail, Also Called Co-Registration
Over the years, it has been proven that online marketing works best when your customers already know and trust you. Therefore, it pays to be proactive in developing a large list of prospects you can market to using a series of e-mails. You build trust be contacting your leads as many as 5-7 times to move them along in the purchasing cycle.
Early communications should offer free gifts like how-to articles and white papers. As you continue to communicate with your customers and they get to know you and feel comfortable with you and your business, you can step them up from free offers to paid offers.
Another thing to remember – when you e-mail your customer list with links in the e-mail and they click through, it boosts your ranking in the search engines.
Therefore, it is important to build a “house list or “e-list” of past and current customers along with other interested people so you can sell to those prospects via e-mail marketing. In fact, building this list is an essential component of any online marketing plan.
Once you have a list of qualified customers and interested parties, you can easily market to them on a regular basis through the judicious use of no-cost/low-cost e-mails. But be sure you are sending them what they are expecting to receive.
There are many ways to collect e-mail addresses. Of course, you want to ask people who are visiting your site to register their names and e-mail address so you can follow up with them and send them news, tips, and other complimentary content.
Perhaps the quickest and most cost effective way to generate an ongoing stream of relevant new e-mail addresses is through a process called Co-Registration. Unlike other e-mail collecting methods, Co-Registration won’t take the months of constant work it can take to build a decent database.
You’ll get all the e-mail leads you can handle within a matter of days – not harvested addresses or “cold leads” but legitimate opt-in e-mail leads that have responded to YOUR offer.
Co-Registration happens when a visitor to a Web site registers for information or a magazine subscription and then is offered additional sources of related information in a short ad that appears on the initiating Web site’s “Thank You” page.
There are three basic types of Co-Reg leads: opt-out, opt-in and double opt-in.
An opt-out lead is the least costly and least desirable because the customer doesn’t actually select to receive additional information. They are given a menu of ads with the boxes already checked. If they don’t uncheck the boxes, their information is shared with the Co-Reg Web sites.
The opt-in customer actually checks the boxes in an ad that appeal to them, making him a more qualified lead.
The double opt-in customer checks the boxes and is then sent a confirmation e-mail to which he must reply in order to be added to the list. This produces a much more qualified lead. But it is also much more expensive because of the extra steps required on the part of the provider – and the fact that many customers fail to see the process through.
Try to pick Co-Reg partners that cater to the target market that you are trying to attract so the branding is consistent. Prices can range from 20 cents to $5 a lead on the consumer side and $1 to $50 on the business side.
You can get started in Co-Registration by finding Websites that are similar to yours, contacting them and asking them to trade Co-Registrations with your for free.
For software to make it easier to run a Co-Reg program yourself, go to
coregcomplete.com. If you’re having trouble finding partners, try coregpartnerfinder.com or a new directory site regready.com.
To make the best use of a Co-Reg program, you should have an auto-responder program in place to quickly contact your new leads with free content, premiums and other incentives. If you fail to do this, expect response rates to fall significantly.
Pay Per Click Placement (PPC)
You can pay for search engine placement through programs like Google AdWords where you bid against your competitors for keywords. This can be one of the most cost-effective ways of advertising online because your ads can be easily targeted by keyword search.
These text-only ads link a viewer’s search query to an advertiser’s solution. They look like classifieds and usually appear to the right of actual search results. You bid against your competitors to have your ads appear when a user searches for one of your pre-selected keywords.
The PPC ad conversion rate is easy to measure. And these ads are excellent mechanisms for generating leads and making sales.
To get started, visit Google AdWords starter version at adwords.google.com.
Affiliate or Partnering Programs
This is an online referral system that offers a commission to the source of a lead. When a customer clicks through on a link or closes a sale, the originating site receives a payment. The best known of all affiliate programs – one that you are probably familiar with – is Amazon.com Associates. See http://affiliate-program.amazon.com But there are many others including affiliateguide.com, 5staraffiliateprogram.com, and Commission Junction – cj.com.
The best way to start an affiliate program is to recruit the affiliates yourself. Search for companies that share a client base but offer complementary products. E-mail the owners an invitation to become an affiliate stressing the benefits and low risks involved.
You can purchase advertising – either text ads, graphic ads or both – in highly targeted online newsletters, giving you access to targeted mailing lists that is probably not available any other way.
If you would like to try this, find newsletters that address issues related to your Web site’s niche. Then contact them for rates and specifications.
Traditional Media Support
This entails purchasing advertising to promote your website in the traditional media: radio, television, newspapers, magazines, etc.
These are linkable online display ads and are probably the most expensive method of online promotion. Banner ads work well for branding, often driving traffic to your site after running for a period of time.
The average click-through rate (CTR) of a banner ad is slightly below 1% with most banner ads producing only one-third to one-half as many clicks as Pay-Per-Click search marketing. This makes banner advertising the most expensive of all forms of customer acquisition exceeding even the traditional media.
You will need excellent creative to compete in the banner universe, so it will pay to hire a pro especially if you want rich media ads using Flash, video or sound. And you might need help with your media buys to place the ads.
Here are some resources for banner ad creative and placement: 247realmedia.com, valueclickmedia.com and gorillanation.com/.
As you can see, there are a number of low-cost ways to start driving traffic to your site: customer referral and tell-a-friend buttons, SEO, reciprocal links, and Co-Registration. Begin your marketing efforts with these techniques and gradually step up the hierarchy as your efforts produce traffic and that traffic produces the results you seek. And remember to constantly test and fine-tune your ads for optimum results.
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